Van Buren, a Town in Onondaga County, was inhabited at the time of the European discovery by fierce Iroquois Indians. They dominated the area of New York State until their power was ended by the American Revolutionary War. After the war, the new American Government found it difficult to pay the soldiers. This problem was solved by using the land gained to pay the troops. Near the close of the war, an arrangement was made whereby the State of New York took upon itself the carrying out of this promise as relating to the soldiers of New York.
The new Congress had promised to lay out in the public land 600 acre-tracts to cancel these obligations. It was the intent of New York to increase the 100 acres promised by the Federal Government to 600 acres. In February 1789 an Act was passed requiring the Land Office Commissioners to direct a survey of the Military Tract. The Legislative enactment had given specific directions as to the manner in which the Tract was to be laid out. There were to be townships formed each having 100 lots and each one was to contain 600 acres of land.
Each township was to have a name and numbers and the lots of each township were also to be numbered. Various lots were to be reserved which in later years could be used for funds and to support churches, schools, and other public buildings. Surveyor General Dewitt began his work soon after he was given his instructions. A report was presented in July of 1790 at the meeting of the Land Office Commissioners, showing that twenty-five townships had been laid out. Township #5 was named Camillus, which included Elbridge and the present Town of Van Buren.
In Van Buren, the rectangular lots were about 620 acres. The Seneca River posed some problems, so some lots had irregular borders. The allotment of the Military Tract to ex-soldiers of the war followed upon completion of the survey. The drawings of the lots began July 3, 1790 which was the day on which the Surveyor General’s report was accepted. Also, the townships were given names. The work of allotment continued all through the months of July until the 2500 lots were exhausted. Out of the 34 soldiers who drew lots in the area, which is now Van Buren, only one settled on his share. His name was John Cunningham, lot #38. All of the others sold their shares because the area was still a wilderness and the money seemed more valuable. The lots changed hands many times as the lots fell into the hands of speculators.
Even future Governor Dewitt Clinton purchased and held part of lot #8 for a time. The period of land speculation lasted until 1820, by which time the greater portion of the town was in the hands of residents. Presently, many families trace their ancestry back to these early settlers. The presence of the Seneca River, the northern boundary of Van Buren, was used as a highway of travel made possible the early presence of John McHarrie, who is credited to be Baldwinsville’s first settler.
Baldwinsville is one of the rare villages in the U.S. that lies in two townships – Van Buren and Lysander. The area was heavily forested with hardwood and conifers. Bears, wolves and cougars were sometimes a menace. However, the area prospered and population increased, putting pressure on making Van Buren a separate entity. The Town of Van Buren as a separate community dates from 1829 when it was separated from Camillus. For more information, there is an excellent book, “The Early History of the Town of Van Buren” which is available at the Shacksboro Museum on Canton St. in Baldwinsville.